The car bomb was left in Market Square in the mainly Protestant town of Lisburn. The 600-700lb device, which was primed and ready to explode, would have devastated the centre of the town.
It was made safe by army bomb disposal experts. The initial assumption, while the results of forensic tests are awaited, is that the attempted attack was the work of one of the republican splinter groups, such as the Continuity IRA, who oppose the peace process.
The reminder of the threat posed by renegades came as the IRA flatly declared, in a statement issued early yesterday, that "there will be no decommissioning". The statement went on to clear the way for a move to change the constitution of Sinn Fein to allow members to take their seats in the planned new assembly.
The IRA stance on weapons was criticised from various quarters, though the Government refrained from asserting in absolute terms that the absence of IRA decommissioning would automatically exclude Sinn Fein from a new administration.
Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble said the statement was, in effect, a rejection of the agreement by "Sinn Fein/IRA". He added: "Things like prisoner release and the opportunity of being involved in the administration of Northern Ireland are not to be made available to them unless they accept it really must now be peace."
A contrasting view was given by David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is associated with a loyalist paramilitary grouping. He said some elements of the IRA statement were worrying, with the retention of weapons carrying an implicit threat. But he added: "The IRA are creating stepping-stones away from their republican ideology. That is extremely significant."
Tony Blair, speaking during a visit to Manchester, said: "It has got to be absolutely clear that people who serve in the government of Northern Ireland have to give up violence, whichever party it is."
The nomination of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and SDLP leader John Hume for the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in the Ulster peace process was last night given a warm but cautious welcome at Westminster. Mr Trimble and Mr Hume were nominated forby Jens-Peter Bonde, the Danish leader of the right-wing European Parliament Europe of Nations group.
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